Life-Work Wednesday | What experience taught you the most in life?
In a word: parenting. This feels a bit like cheating since it’s an ongoing experience, the gift that keeps on teaching. It also feels challenging to write about, because I’m still learning from this experience. And a lot of the lessons I’ve already learned felt a lot like, well, failure.
And that’s the biggest lesson that parenting has taught me… though I keep trying to unlearn it. The lesson? Letting go.
Letting go of my privacy. My body was not my own. As a pregnant woman, I was now sharing my body with another human being full-time, no vacation days. And through our social contract that a woman’s body ceases to be her own as soon as it is occupied, I also became the subject of privacy-eradicating stranger-intimacy. Sure, there was the occasional request to pat my belly, but most stranger-intimacy revealed itself in the form of confessions. Their story was projected on to my growing figure. The children they’d had or wished they’d had. The puppies they adopted (I always assured them I was carrying a human child). The recollections of the babies that they had not chosen.
Long ago I got my bodily anonymity back. The lesson I try to take from this is that we all have stories to share and that, in doing so, we make space for other people’s stories.
Letting go of perfectionism. I was 16 and Pregnant before it was cool and I’m positive that this garnered me special attention in public. I never wanted my son to cry, because well-meaning women would jump in “to my rescue.” I would usually be polite, but try to move on quickly. I didn’t need their judgment. And Lord help me if I appeared to be “that girl” who let her baby get fussy at the mall.
It’s taken me a long time to realize that this is something all parents struggle with. I don’t know that I really embraced this kind of Letting Go until I decided to go back to school while working full-time as a full-time single parent. People asked how I did it all? My response: I don’t do anything as well as I’d like. Secretly, I still wanted to live up to those self-imposed standards. Honestly, I still do.
Letting go of expectations. The two hardest parts of raising older children are when you don’t know what advice to give them and when they won’t take the advice you give them. Recognizing that my son really is a separate human being has been liberating.
Letting go of this person I’ve created, loved, worried about. But not entirely. Holding him and all my hopes and dreams for him very lightly. I still have night terrors about all the peril that could await my son, but in the bright early hours I remind myself that the only person he has to make happy is him.
Which is a good reminder to me that I am here to follow my own path as well.